Monday, 23 December 2013

In need of being cheered up? Off to your local butcher's shop then!

A butcher's shop - many things have changed - but not the humour!
I am blessed with 4 really good butcher shops within quarter of an hour from where I live. I always wanted to be a butcher when I was a nipper. I used to happily join my mother when she was going to “Baxters the Butchers”, based in an old, leaning black and white building in Upton-upon-Severn, my home village in Worcestershire.

As we pushed through the multi-coloured ribbons in the doorway and entered the shop with its floor covered with sawdust, I usually felt a small buzz of excitement as the place was always crowded with locals that I knew or recognised, chatting and laughing - it was such a happy place!

It did not matter to me which butcher served us as I liked them all and the greeting was always the same anyway! “Aahaa, I spy Master Peter if I'm not mistaken and you will be wanting one of our delicious lollipops no doubt!” A large Kilner jar on the counter held a range of different coloured sugary balls on a short stick – orange ones were my favourite.

As I sucked on my treat, my mother would buy the Sunday joint and other bits and pieces. There was always a “special” which would be announced in a rather hushed tone as though it was not being offered to all customers, only the favoured ones. My mother invariably fell for this ploy and the butcher would then go out the back of the shop to get the “special” joint, nothing on show in the cabinets could possibly be good enough for such a valued client! As mum paid the bill, I would be given an oddly shaped plastic bag with “a few bones for those dogs of yours”.

Meanwhile someone in the shop would be telling a story or a joke, often at another local character’s expense. There was always plenty of banter in Baxters, gossip too, which made the shopping experience here so different to all the other shops in the village. For me, butcher shops and laughter somehow go together and it was this that made me think that I wanted to become a butcher when I grew up.

I have been reminded of all of this as I popped into one of my local Butchers today to collect various Christmas goodies, only to be greeted with - yes you have guessed it - gales of laughter and the hum of excited chat. Despite the shop being packed, there was time for a story:

“My father was a butcher too and the shop was attached to our home. One day when I came home from school, there was a man in our front room who was wearing a suit.  I was told to behave as it was a health and safety inspector. I went upstairs to go to the loo, only to find an enormous dead pig in the bath! I ran back downstairs and asked why there was a pig in the bath, whereupon my mother clipped me around the ear and told me not to talk about granny like that!!”  
My love of butcher shops remains undiminished.
     

  

Saturday, 21 December 2013

Government starts to shed light on CAP reform

Government is beginning to shed some light onto the future of the countryside 
So, Mr Paterson has chosen to move 12% across from pillar one to pillar two, which means that there is less in the pot which goes straight to farmers (pillar one), but more in Pillar two (which funds environmental schemes and rural business development etc) which is good news. Mr Paterson has also stated that 87% of the 12% transferred into rural development will be spent on Agri-environment – so around £926 million, which is also good news.

This is new funding made available for fresh commitments, not including the £2.155 billion that has already been committed, so that in total there will be about £3.1 billion over the 2014-2020 period for spending on Stewardship type schemes. This is a compromise between what the NFU were asking for – 9% and what the environmentalists wanted – 15%.

Wales has decided to go for the full 15%, while Scotland will have a 9.5 % and Ireland 7%. But wait for it, in Germany they have gone for 4.5% and in France 3%, while in Italy it has been set at 0%!! Call me naive, but I could have sworn that one of the main reasons for joining the European Union was to have a “level playing field” when it came to trading. Just my luck to be reincarnated as a farmland bird in Italy!!

As yet there is no news on many other aspects of Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) reform. In particular we await the changes made to Cross Compliance, in other words what farmers are obliged to do on their farms to enable them to receive the single farm payment – ie: money from pillar one.  
Once we know this segment of the whole, we can get down to sorting out exactly what the new Stewardship scheme will look like, rather than drafting and somewhat guessing the outcome. 
These are indeed interesting times for the countryside!


Thursday, 19 December 2013

The mist clears a little on trapping birds

Large stretches of coastline are mist netted
Back in the spring, I caught up with a bird watching chum who had just returned from a North African bird watching trip. I could tell that he was genuinely shocked by the amount of bird trapping that was taking place along the North African coast. He said that there was literally mile after mile of mist nets.

So I am delighted to read that a one-day coordination meeting focusing on the issue of bird trapping in Egypt and Libya took place at the UN Campus in Bonn, Germany, on 29th November 2013 and I report some of that meeting below.

The aim of the meeting was to take stock of the latest available information on the issue of bird netting in both countries and to agree on a Plan of Action on bird trapping for the Mediterranean coasts of Egypt and Libya.

The widespread hunting and trapping of migratory birds in both countries, especially through the use of mist nets along vast stretches of the Mediterranean coast, have become issues of public concern in a growing number of European countries. Unfortunately, this is despite both Egypt and Libya being contracting parties to CMS [the Convention on Migratory Species] and a number of other international environmental treaties.

However a spokesman said "The good representation from both Egypt and Libya at the Bonn coordination meeting shows that the authorities have recognized the issue, are aware of the growing publicity and are looking to cooperate with international partners and other stakeholders to try to address the issue in their countries."

The trapping of Quail and illegal use of mist netting targeted at songbirds is indiscriminate and results in many protected species being killed. The practices have been repeatedly raised by conservation organizations and by selected media as an issue of international concern, affecting millions of migratory birds trapped by the nets as they cross the Mediterranean Sea between Europe and Africa.

The meeting agreed that the main goal of the action plan was to ensure that the practice of bird trapping along the Mediterranean coasts of Egypt and Libya is both sustainable and legal and to undertake measures to better understand the current bird trapping practices in order to end any unsustainable and illegal practices in both countries.

"I am extremely pleased about the outcome of the meeting as well as the strong commitment and good spirit of cooperation which was evident in the room. We now have a strong basis for effective and coordinated actions on the ground in the months and years to come," a spokesman said.
So, it was obviously a very good meeting. Let’s hope that this optimism and cooperation is now translated onto the ground for the sake of millions of birds.

Sunday, 15 December 2013

Sea surge savages the sea shore and much more besides.

Many hectares of farmland were inundated by the sea
As we all probably know, the worst tidal surge in 60 years occurred between the 5th and 7th of December 2013. Flooding and coastal erosion occurred down the east coast of England from Northumberland to Kent and along the north coast of Wales. In some places the waters rose even higher than those seen during the devastating floods of January 1953 (when 307 people lost their lives in England) and the Thames Barrier recorded the highest tide since its construction in 1984.

Although Government officials said that improved flood defences had generally held up well and obviously, when compared to 1953 they did, that was however not always the case. Seven cliff-top homes collapsed into the sea at Hemsby in Norfolk, where a lifeboat station was also washed away. The Environment Agency reported that the surge resulted in the flooding of around 1,400 properties, with 18,000 people evacuated and 232 Flood Warnings and 71 severe flood warnings issued.

Official estimates have not yet been provided for the area of agricultural land flooded, however it is thought to be in excess of 2,000 ha. Meanwhile a chicken farm on the outskirts of South Ferriby, a village in North Lincolnshire on the banks of the Humber estuary, confirmed that they had lost 700,000 chickens to drowning, when the farm was inundated by flood water.

Also, many nature reserves and coastal habitats have been badly affected such as at the RSPB Snettisham reserve in Norfolk, where the shingle beach had been completely stripped away and the two gravel pits, once separated by a causeway footpath, have been topped up with millions of gallons of seawater creating one massive lake.

Bird hides too have been badly affected at Snettisham, one having been shifted through 180 degrees and now tilts at a 45 degree angle, while another has completely disappeared! Meanwhile literally hundreds of seal pups, which are born at this time of year, were killed by the surge, leaving many beaches dotted with their small dead white corpses.

So, the aftermath of this particular storm will take a long time to recover from in many areas and it is once again a reminder to us all that, however powerful we think we are, nature still often has the upper hand if it chooses.  


Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Tuning into wildlife can be quite a hoot!

A Dunnock in full song
As far back as I can remember, I have always had an ear sub-consciously tuned into the sounds of wildlife.  It does not seem to matter what I am doing – I might be in a meeting, reading the Sunday papers or in full conversation with someone, when an alarm call or snippet of song will override everything and burst into my conscience!  Some of my friends (so called!) say that this happens to me because my ears stick out at right angles – giving me one of the many nicknames I had at school of “world cup”!!

Alarm calls in particular, are very useful to pick up, as they give me time to turn and glimpse the little male Sparrowhawk as it twists and turns through the trees or the Red Kite gliding over the fields behind me, which I would have undoubtedly missed if the calls had not made me aware.

At this time of year, it is the winter flocks of small birds, usually made up of mixed tit species, with the odd Goldcrest thrown in for good measure, that create a sudden high pitched din of various alarm calls, seemingly well before the predator appears – one of the advantages of being part of a group with numerous eyes all on the lookout for danger.

In the summer months the alarm system seems to be handed over to the Swallows and Martins, who literally have a bird’s eye view of what is lurking in the shadows. I have often thought that predators such as the Sparrowhawk must dread the return of these summer visitors, as one short alarm call from above, sends every small bird below hurtling to the safety of some thick, impenetrable cover.

The nights so far this autumn and the early part of winter, have been filled with the hoots and woos of Tawny owls. They are trying to kick out the youngsters and set up new territories, (I have some sympathy with Tawnies on this front!) but what a racket it has been this year! Although the noise goes on all night, they gather together in the large Oak outside my bedroom window as the very first glimmers of the new day appear, to have one final set to – so there has been no need to set the alarm clock for what seems like months!!

As the hootathon dies down, a little Dunnock, which roosts every night in the honeysuckle directly  beneath the open bedroom window takes over, with a short and at first, rather muted little burst of song, as though it is not quite sure if singing is allowed while it is still so dark. But it soon ups the volume as it is joined by the local Robin and from this morning, the Song thrush.

I had a meeting at the Hampshire Wildlife Trust offices yesterday and as I arrived in their car park and opened the car door, I was greeted by the drifting notes of a distant Mistle thrush, singing from the very top of a Beech tree – such an evocative spring sound. Even though 2013 has a few more weeks to run, already plans are under way for next year’s breeding season. Now that is a comforting thought!       
Tawny owls have been particularly noisy this autumn

Saturday, 7 December 2013

Cultivating brains for the future of farming

Agricultural students - the future of farming
I sort of knew this would happen. Over the last 20 years or so, I have watched agricultural colleges either shut down completely or close their agricultural courses, preferring to offer “equine studies” or “countryside management” instead – not that there is anything wrong with these courses – but how short sighted have they been in no longer offering practically based pure agricultural courses?

It is estimated that food production will have to increase by 70% in the next 40 years to feed a growing world population. It will have to try doing so with the same agricultural footprint, and without depleting our natural resources or destroying our environment. A huge ask indeed.

Meanwhile, estimates suggest that UK agriculture needs 60,000 more workers for optimal productivity, and to be internationally competitive the sector will require graduates with advanced problem-solving skills.

There are currently 7,000 agriculture students graduating from UK universities and colleges each year (and I wonder how many of those genuinely have practical skills) – insufficient to replace the 10,000 or so leaving the industry through retirement, never mind increasing their numbers.

Agricultural businesses must work with universities and colleges to design courses that will produce graduates fit for the future; they should offer student placements to ensure that graduates get the business and practical skills essential to their future employment. Government too, should support training programmes and look to promote careers in agriculture.

What is more, they need to get on with it right away.

Sunday, 1 December 2013

13 is unlucky for the wise Barn owl.

A hunting Barn owl
2013 appears to have been the poorest breeding season for barn owls in Britain since 1958. This year's round of 73 Annual Monitoring Site visits by the Barn Owl Trust has now revealed the extent of the devastation. On average nesting occurs at 51% of sites, this year's figure is a mere 12% and 47% of nest sites are completely unoccupied. At the 12% of sites where pairs have managed to survive and breed, the average number of young in the nest is just two rather than the four or five that are needed for population recovery.

This national scenario was played out near to where I live in Hampshire, when a neighbouring farmer found a Barn owl back in June, lying dead on a clutch of eggs in one of the nest boxes he had put up specifically for it. The very late cold spring, lack of small mammals and the huge effort of egg laying, had all been too much for this particular female.

A few regions of eastern England did buck the trend however, with between one and two-thirds of traditional nest sites producing young with average broods of between three and five.

This is a real setback for a breeding population which, since the turn of the century has probably risen from around 4500 pairs to nearer 8000 pairs in Britain, maybe more. The BTO’s Breeding Bird Survey - which records the population trends of UK's breeding birds, supports this increase in numbers. It reports an almost three-fold increase between 1995 and 2012, whilst data from its new Bird Atlas suggests that this bird has also seen an almost 70% increase in range expansion in Britain since the Barn Owl Survey of Britain and Ireland in 1987.

With the enormous abundance of food in the form of berries, nuts and fruits this autumn, I imagine that many small mammals will fare well over-winter and may be in good numbers come next year. If the British weather can resist from showing off all its extremes in 2014, and just deliver an average year , then hopefully the delightful Barn owl will bounce straight back with a good breeding season, and continue its recent success story.

Friday, 29 November 2013

Badgers extend their range to Israel!

I couldn't help smiling when I heard on the radio that a little boy came home from a day at his primary school in Gloucestershire, and announced that he is be a “Badger” in this year’s nativity play!

Firstly, I never ever remember Badgers peering over the edge of the crib in Bethlehem – do you? And secondly, dressing up as a Badger in Gloucestershire of all counties, could have profound consequences if there happen to be any DEFRA sponsored marksmen around!! Whatever they do, they should not let the little chap run around outside, practising how to be a badger, as he may well never make it as far as the stage!! Either the teacher is not too strong on the old faith bit, or perhaps she just has a rather wicked sense of humour – perhaps dad is a local farmer!!    

Monday, 25 November 2013

Small songster is superbly successful!

Little Jenny Wren
I spent a while this morning trying to catch a wren which had flown into our utility room (polite name for the room that has everything chucked into it!) through an open window. Eventually I caught it and having admired it for a few seconds, I released it back into the garden. To my surprise it flew to the top of a large bush and burst into song! They may be small, but they certainly have plenty of spirit!
 
I see from the new bird Atlas, (not yet got my own - but soon!) that the Wren was the most widespread breeding bird across Britain between 2007 / 2011, which was when the surveys were carried out for this book. In Britain, out of the 2,860 10-km squares covered in the Bird Atlas, the Wren was only absent from 73 of those squares!
 
Bet you would not have guessed the birds that came in second and third in the widespread stakes – the Skylark and Pied Wagtail were in 2,753 and 2,746 respectively. I would definitely have got it wrong!


Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Irish Grey partridge - back from the brink.

Grey partridge hiding by a crop planted specially for them
The alarm went off at 4.30 am yesterday morning as I had to catch an early morning flight to Dublin to visit one of the Irish Grey partridge re-introduction projects. The North Dublin Grey partridge project covers three farms, totalling about 1000 acres and is organised by the Irish Grey partridge Conservation Trust, working alongside local biodiversity Government officers, who are also funding the project.

Because Grey partridge have been completely lost from most of Ireland, lots of habitat restoration has had to be put in place prior to any thought of releasing Grey partridge back into the area. Plenty of good nesting cover, in the form of tussocky grass margins has been created and alongside them, cereal and Kale strips have been planted, which are left for two years so as to provide food and cover throughout the year.

Supplementary hopper feeding and areas of wild bird seed mixes are also used, while a targeted, spring and summer predator control programme has been put in place to limit numbers of Fox, Crows, Magpies and ground predators such as rats.

The project has already had some success with breeding taking place and broods successfully reared. We were treated to a lovely covey of 12 birds bursting out of cover, flying away over a tall hedge, the sunlight picking out their heart shaped brown chests as they turned.  A wonderful sight!   
I managed to advise on a number of points which will hopefully tweak what they are already successfully doing, so that even more coveys are established by this time next year.

Incidentally, the news from one of the other projects in Boora, county Offaly, that I visited a couple of years ago is very positive too, with Greys doing well. What is equally important is that the local breeding population of Lapwing (which has all but disappeared from Ireland too) is thriving on the back of the Grey partridge project.  This year was exceptional, with 81 nests producing 178 fledged chicks on just 694 acres. Not bad for a bird which had previously been almost lost as a breeding species in the country!

So, well done to Kieran Buckley and his team from the Irish Grey partridge Conservation Trust, and also the Irish Government for the vital funding they are giving to these projects. Not only are they saving the Grey partridge, but the Lapwing too! I should have added that Skylark numbers are also going through the roof too!!  
The enthusiastic project team - although they don't look that keen in this photo!

Monday, 18 November 2013

Wood pigeon are on the move!

Wood pigeon on the move

I noticed some big movements of wood pigeon over the weekend, flying high in a westerly direction. Most autumns we see big flocks of pigeons flying along the south coast, sometimes westwards and sometimes straight out to sea heading towards France. On the 14th of November ornithologists counted 45,000 moving over Chichester harbour and on the 10th a count came from South Wales where 156,000 were counted in 4 hours.

We get flocks arriving from the continent and a general movement to the south and west, related to cold air and food sources – although this year there is so much food around, they should have an easy time of it this winter.

The local pigeons seemed to be mainly feeding on beech mast, with large flocks clattering away from under these trees as I approached. Hopefully, with abundant source of natural food around this year, farmer's oil seed rape crops will be left alone at least until the new year anyway!

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Play outside - you must be kidding!


Even inner city children used to play outside alot

Do you know that only 1 in 10 children regularly play outside?   Do you also know that children between the ages of 11 to 15 years old, on average spend 7 ½ hours in front of a screen of some sort every day, which equates to half of their waking life. Interestingly, those kids who spend the most time in front of a screen also report the lowest levels of well-being.

Apparently, fitness levels amongst the British are falling faster than any other country in the world and this sedentary lifestyle, coupled often with over-eating and a poor diet generally, is leading to a sharp increase in child obesity. For the first time in human history, many of these children face a lower life expectancy than their parents.

My childhood was unbelievably fortunate as I was brought up in a rural community with masses of freedom. In fact it was often hard for my parents to entice me back indoors. During school holidays I would wave a cheery goodbye to my mother as I set off on my bike, without her even knowing which direction I had gone in, relying only on the knowledge that I would return when I was hungry!  Nowadays, of course things are very different, however parents seem so completely obsessed with their children’s security, that by current accepted standards of health and safety, it makes me wonder how any of my generation ever reached adulthood!

We must all surely be concerned about these few statistics that I have mentioned above, as it does not make for comfortable reading. But what are we able to do to change things? Well, here are a couple of initiatives under way (I'm sure there are many more) that I am aware of, which are attempting to change the mindset of both parents and children.

The National Trust has produced an interesting website page entitled “50 things to do before you are 11 ¾” - https://www.50things.org.uk/ and the organisation Countryside Learning offers many ideas and events - http://www.countrysidelearning.org/
 
Finally, how about introducing children to a brand new hobby? For instance, why not book them onto next summers GWCT's young shots course - find out more at:
https://www.gwct.org.uk/advisory/advisory-courses/game-management/young-shooters-course/

So, lets loosen up a little about our children being in danger the moment they leave the house. As one outward bound teacher put it at the end of an activities day, surrounded by smiling, mud splattered children with rosy cheeks - “the most dangerous thing that they have done today by far is driving here in their parent’s car”.

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Soil Matters

How we manage this stuff........
The Campaign for the Farmed Environment (CFE) was re-launched back in the autumn and now has a co-ordinator in every English county. I continue to head up the campaign in Hampshire, but the difference is that CFE now covers all grassland farms and encompasses much more about soil and water within its remit, while continuing to promote practical farm conservation.

I feel that one of the biggest strengths of the campaign is that it has so successfully brought together advisors, industry and experts from right across the farming and conservation sectors. Let’s face it, there is an enormous amount for a land manager to grasp if he or she is to run a farm efficiently and within the law! Yesterday, I attended just such an event with my CFE hat on which showed just how well different organisations can work together to disseminate practical, local advice.

The event entitled “Soil Matters” was organised by Kathryn Mitchell, the Integrated Farm Management (IFM) Development Manager from Linking Environment And Farming (LEAF) and Serena Leadlay, the Catchment Sensitive Farming (CSF) officer for the Hampshire rivers, the Test and Itchen. (Crumbs, it makes you realise just how many acronyms we use nowadays – I have put links to all if you want to find out more!!)

The morning started with a series of indoor talks about soil and water and how best to manage them from both a cropping and environmental point of view. We then went out onto the Leckford estate, which is owned and run by the John Lewis partnership and is also a LEAF demonstration farm. Here we heard from a Lucy Roberts a groundwater technical specialist from the Environment agency (EA) and also from Kevin Ashford, an agronomist specialising in soils. Add to this heady mix the Leckford estate manager, Andrew Ferguson, who added his local expertise to day and you can see that anyone attending the day had a wealth of knowledge present to tap into.

We still have so much to learn about how we manage our soils and the impact that different management techniques have on our environment, especially the quality of our water. Talking to the farmers who attended, the general consensus is that we have only just started to “scratch the surface”. Sorry for this awful pun – but it is true!!

Impacts on the quality of this stuff!

Saturday, 9 November 2013

Are Badgers evil? Discuss.

Badgers have a wide and varied diet
I have just been reading the latest NFU magazine “Farmer & Grower” which is full of good articles covering a wide range of topics and useful snippets of information.  As I flicked through the pages I came across the comments from the tractor cab page with its “star letter” entitled “changing people’s perceptions of Badgers”.

The letter described an early morning fishing trip to the river Stour one late spring morning. On arriving, out on the water meadows there was quite a commotion going on amongst the local Peewit (Lapwing) population, which were screaming and diving around. Further investigation found that the cause of all this turmoil was a group of Badgers munching up the bird’s eggs.

The letter then went on to say, and I now quote, “A lot of blood was on the egg shells, so they must have been near to hatching. It really broke our hearts that Badgers could be so evil”. The letter finished with “If more people were aware of how evil Badgers can be, perhaps those who protect them might change their minds”.

What struck me about this letter was the use of the word “evil”. Are Badgers really evil? Were the men who in the 18th and 19th centuries, collected Lapwing eggs from Norfolk marshland in their thousands and transported them to London markets, selling them as delicacies for “three shillings a dozen”, evil people? Only the other day I came across a small group of field mushrooms, which I eagerly gathered up to take home to eat – does that also put me into the “evil” category?

Badgers have inhabited the UK for 250,000 years (See November’s species of the month on Badgers by going to the tab at the top of this page) and have evolved a wide and varied diet, which includes eggs, hedgehogs and bumble bee grubs. But I don’t think that this makes it an evil animal, any more than a Dolphin killing fish or a Spotted Flycatcher taking a pretty butterfly to eat.

What I do think is that it is all a question of balance and if we find that Badger numbers in the countryside are causing problems in regard to TB or are impacting severely on Lapwing or Hedgehog numbers, then we should have a grown up debate on the pros and cons of introducing control measures to restore the balance of nature. Labelling an animal as “evil” seems to me to be very unhelpful indeed.

I have also noticed a push by the animal rights movement to label milk from outside the pilot cull zone as “Badger friendly”, which may also not be described as an “evil” move, but is certainly extremely dishonest in my opinion.
  




Friday, 8 November 2013

I don't know what all the fuss is about - I fancied a holiday!

A resting Barnacle goose 
Only yesterday I blogged about some of the records set by birds and low and behold I now read about another!! A barnacle goose that failed to turn up on its overwintering grounds at WWT's Caerlaverock Wetland Centre in Dumfries & Galloway (Scotland) has turned up safe and well, a record 900 miles further south in Spain! It's the furthest south that a Barnacle Goose has ever been recorded.

The goose had migrated safely for six consecutive years between arctic Svalbard and Scotland before being absent from Scotland last winter. With no sign of him again this winter, WWT staff feared he hadn't survived. But amazingly, birdwatcher Emilio Martinez spotted the goose this week in the sunshine of the Rouxique marshes near Vigo on northwest Spain's Atlantic coast.

The goose's leg ring, a bright orange one with CBZ written on it identified it as an adult male ringed by WWT at Caerlaverock Wetland Centre in 2004. There, on the Solway Firth wetlands, WWT provides protection for one of the world's three breeding populations of Barnacle Geese, which is loyal to the Solway Firth in winter and Svalbard in summer – well most of them are anyway!

Looking out of the window at the rain pouring down, I think if I had the choice of over-wintering in the UK or continuing to keep on flying down to Northern Spain – I think it would be a fairly easy decision!

Thursday, 7 November 2013

I don't believe it - how old did you say that bird is?

Rooks can reach quite an age!
I never ever tire of reading about the great milestones that some birds achieve, such as the Spotted Flycatcher (one of my favourite birds!) that was ringed in a Norfolk garden in 2004, but then unfortunately flew into a window of a nearby house almost exactly 8 years later, setting a new longevity record - having flown around 60,000 miles migrating to Africa and back each year! Just how amazing is that for such a small bird – surely it deserved a better way to finish off its days.

How about the Mute Swan in Dorset who also set a new age record for its species, 28 years and counting, when its colour-ring was read. Personally, I find that the Rook who turned out to be 22 years and 11 months old is somehow even more incredible.

Having said that though, you have to give it to the old bird of the seas, the Manx Shearwater, found to be 50 years, 11 months and 21 days old when it was captured.

If you find all of this remarkable and want to read more, then go to the BTO’s website:  http://www.bto.org/volunteer-surveys/ringing/publications/online-ringing-reports?dm_i=IG4,1RQEL,39GZIS,6B8XV,1   

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Tree sparrow villages are a great success!

An actual MDNIA tree sparrow!
I had a meeting with the Marlborough Downs Nature Improvement Area (MDNIA) today. This is one of the 12 national NIAs, but is unique in that it is the only “farmer led” NIA in the country.

I chair the MDNIA's Downland Species Delivery Group which keeps tabs on how well the farmers are actually delivering for species on the ground. Amongst many other things, the farmers have been building new Dew ponds, establishing areas of wild flowers, planting wild bird see mixes for feeding over-wintering farmland birds and creating “Tree Sparrow Villages”!

What on earth are Tree Sparrow villages I hear you ask!!! 
Well, Matt Prior is a fantastically knowledgeable and keen ornithologist in the area, who has a particular penchant for the engaging little tree sparrow and he has come up with this idea of creating summer villages for them – in other words creating the perfect environment for them to successfully breed.

He puts up nesting boxes in small groups as tree sparrows like to nest in loose colonies, but he also gets the farmers to grow nearby areas of insect rich flowers and to plant lots of shrubs and small trees, all of which provide the ideal foraging areas for the sparrows to gather lots of insect food – vital if they are to fledge good numbers of young.

This all has to be established within a maximum of 600 metres of the nesting boxes, as this is as far as the adults want to fly to forage for food – ideally much closer than that! Matt also rings these young birds so that he can begin to follow their future movements and where they may eventually bring up their own young.

Is it working? Well, Matt estimates that there were 142 pairs of tree sparrows nesting in the North Wiltshire Downs this summer and 72 of those pairs were using MDNIA boxes and they raised 397 chicks this year!!

Not only does the MDNIA pay for the nest boxes, but before too long Matt and a number of farmers will be out scattering supplementary small grain around tracks and field corners, so that when seeds supplies start to run a little thin, the MDNIA tree sparrows will still have plenty to eat! The MDNIA pays for this food too.

Now that is what I call successful targeted conservation in action! So, well done to all the MDNIA farmers, well done Matt for coordinating the work on the ground and well done to Jemma Batton as well, as she over-sees us all - the farmers, Matt and me!!!
 
Find out more about the Marlborough Downs NIA by going to:

    

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Bricks for bats and birds!

Birds such as this Blue tit are short of holes to nest in.
Bird species that utilize holes to nest and roost in, such as our tit family, swifts and even our once common, but now declining house sparrow, may well have been given a helping hand by a new, forward thinking company!

These birds, along with a number of bats species, are finding that the old houses and farm buildings that they have been using in the past are being converted and modernised, while brand new housing tends not to offer any crevices and holes at all. The result is that there is a dearth of well positioned, dry holes for wildlife to use and those that are available are at a real premium.
 
So, step up the Bird Brick House Company! Take a look at what they offer at:   


Sunday, 3 November 2013

BO can sometimes stink - but not always.

Biodiversity offsetting - difficult to measure
Defra have acknowledged that England faces the twin challenges of simultaneously growing its economy and improving its natural environment. Added to this is the need to ensure the planning system also delivers on the environmental front. Biodiversity offsetting has been mooted as one potential solution to these environmental challenges.
 
So what on earth is biodiversity offsetting? Well it a system whereby developers can attempt to compensate for losses of biodiversity on a particular site by generating ecologically equivalent gains elsewhere.
 
My immediate thoughts on this are that it places substantial faith in the ability of restoration to recover lost biodiversity. It also potentially increases the chances of gaining planning permission on important wildlife areas, because there is the promise of “restoring” the habitat elsewhere in a more “convenient” place. Many are very worried about this saying that it is simply a “licence to trash”.
 
Tom Tew, chief executive of the Environment Bank which is the company acting as the independent broker between planners and developers said, "I think many completely misunderstand how biodiversity offsetting works. It is not a licence to trash, it is the complete opposite. When you put a value on biodiversity, you are putting a financial incentive for developers not to trash it."  He said: "If done well, it could be one of the most beneficial schemes for wildlife in the last 30 years."
 
It has been said that if you create one wetland to replace another one you have filled in just across the road, they will never be the same, no matter what species inhabit them.  In the deepest ecological sense, ‘like-for-like’ trading of nature isn’t possible. I think this is my worry; It does depend on what you are attempting to replace.
 
If for instance, you are looking to build a new housing estate on arable land, that will also destroy a small copse and an adjacent pond, maybe a brand new, well designed wetland area with ponds and scrapes, plus a new woodland planting a short distance away, might potentially compensate for these habitat losses. However, I remember when the entrance to the Channel tunnel in Kent was being constructed and the total destruction of an ancient woodland took place. But all was OK because they removed the surface layer of the forest floor and carefully “replaced it” onto some land close by, for it to re-grow. Like for like? You must be joking.
 
The basic premise underlying the biodiversity offsetting system is that it results in a net gain for biodiversity. But do we really have sufficient guidelines and knowledge to measure this “net gain”? Currently, I don’t think we do.
 
Specific biodiversity offsetting pilot schemes, running in six areas in England since April 2012, have already influenced government thinking and will continue to do so. Defra have now released a Green Paper on biodiversity offsetting in England and opened their consultation on the same subject. They have outlined their proposal for a system and are now seeking views about how best it could operate.

But hurry if you want to say your bit - the consultation finishes on the 7th of November – see: https://consult.defra.gov.uk/biodiversity/biodiversity_offsetting 

Friday, 1 November 2013

Fighting the resistance.

Many target species are becoming resistant to sprays
I'm sure you have heard radio reports on how a wide range of antibiotics are not working as well as they used to and have also seen exaggerated tabloid headlines stating that “giant rats resistant to all poisons are roaming our streets”  - strange how they are always giant ones isn't it?

Increasingly, resistance build up to a number of important agricultural pesticides is also causing alarm within farming circles, as Steve Foster from at Rothamsted Research points out. He's been studying the peach-potato aphid and the grain aphid - the former has now developed resistance to many insecticides including pyrethroids, carbamates and organophosphates.

"Peach-potato aphid is the number one aphid pest in the UK and many parts of the world," he says. "Some have several types of resistance and there are cases when you just can't kill them with the compounds available," he adds.
 
It’s not just insecticides that are causing concern, with resistant blackgrass continually dominating the farming press, as its control can cost growers up to £100/ha in some cases, rendering fields unprofitable for growing a cereal crop. Resistance is also spreading across the country as highlighted by a survey that showed amongst the 20,000 farms known to use herbicides to control blackgrass, it now is estimated that 80% or more of those will have some level of resistance to at least one herbicide.
 
What is more, it’s not just grasses such as Blackgrass causing problems. Plants such as poppies, mayweed and chickweed are also posing an emerging threat, with reports of herbicide resistance in chickweed in the north of England and throughout Scotland  becoming more common.
 
Glyphosate (you may know it as Roundup or Tumbleweed) is a product that is used by just about every non organic farmer in the country and thus it would leave a particularly large hole if weeds became resistant to this particular chemical.  Paul Neve, an assistant professor at Warwick University, is working with PhD student Laura Davies to examine whether glyphosate resistance is likely to be seen in the UK. While he doesn't expect her research to uncover any resistant populations, he says it would be a "major problem" for growers if it developed.
 
"As we lose other available herbicides glyphosate becomes more and more important," he says. “Globally there are now 24 weed species with confirmed glyphosate resistance. Most are in North America and associated with GM crops. There are also some cases in Europe, but they are entirely in perennial crops such as vines, citrus and olive crops."
 
The project tested samples from 40 different blackgrass populations across affected areas of the UK. No resistance was found, and the weed was still being controlled by the field-recommended rate of glyphosate. Laura did however, find variation in sensitivity to glyphosate at lower than recommended doses, with less sensitive populations tending to be from fields with a history of more intense glyphosate use. That really does not bode well in my opinion.
 
With very little brand new chemistry coming on stream, the farming industry can ill afford to lose these important older products.  I feel that much more should be made of cultural control methods, such as better rotations, crop choice and even, in the case of aphids, beneficial predators. The use of many of these chemicals should kick in as more of a last resort.

I do however realize that this is sometimes easier said than done.  

Thursday, 31 October 2013

Nick Clegg bangs another nail into the DEFRA coffin

I thought I would spare you a picture of Nick Clegg.

Not only have we lost two excellent ministers from DEFRA in recent times, Sir Jim Paice and Richard Benyon, who both (for a change) actually understood farming and the way the countryside works, but now it also appears that DEFRA has been weakened further. Apparently, it was Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg who was responsible for the decision to remove the Ministerial rank from Defra’s farming role, the Department’s chief civil servant told MPs this week.

The recent Ministerial reshuffle saw Lib Dem David Heath replaced by Tory George Eustice as Farming Minister. But whereas Mr Heath carried the rank of Minister of State, Mr Eustice is a more junior Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, leaving Defra as one of the few Whitehall Departments without a Minister of State.

The downgrading of the farming role has been criticised by MPs and industry leaders, with former Farming Minister Sir Jim Paice, suggesting it raised questions about the Government’s commitment to DEFRA and its agenda. NFU president Peter Kendall said the industry ‘ought to have an explanation’ over the apparent downgrading of the farming role in Defra.

Neil Parish, Conservative MP for Tiverton and Honiton said, “Agriculture has never been a more pressing issue than it is today and farming is a vital part of the rural economy. Food security is a grave challenge facing governments around the world. By 2050 the global population estimated to reach nine billion and it will take innovation and political will to increase food production to meet this demand. Many people in rural areas and the food and farming industries will see this as a snub from the deputy prime minister and I hope he will reconsider and give farming the support it deserves." 
I agree.

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Young photographer sheds light on British countryside

The winning photograph

16-year-old Christopher Page was named the winner of the award earlier this year by the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT) and I had the pleasure of presenting him with his trophy  the other day. The Julian Gardner Award is named in honour of the East Sussex farmer who was tragically murdered while defending his property in 2010. Julian was a life long supporter of the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust.
 
Christopher's winning photograph depicts an atmospheric  woodland scene bathed in soft golden sunlight and autumnal colours.  It was taken at the Polesdon Lacey estate in Surrey while Christopher was 15, and entered into the 16-and-under category of the Julian Gardner Award. Christopher's talents have also been recognised by The Sunday Times Magazine, who made the same photograph one of the finalists in their Take a View Landscape Photographer of the Year Awards 2013.
 
Christopher said, "I particularly enjoy taking photographs of landscapes. I love the way it makes you really look at the detail."
 
Why don't you think of entering this competition?
 

Christopher Page being presented with his trophy by me!



Monday, 28 October 2013

Volunteering to be trained!!

The cheeriest bunch of volunteers you are ever likely to meet!
 I ran a course last week on “Farming & Wildlife” for the South Downs National Park volunteers and I have to say, what a lovely bunch they were!! The request had come through as many of them felt that they could find courses to go on about chalk grassland and woodland habitats etc, but not necessarily about what happens on our farms. Of course most of the South Downs is made up of farmland, so if they are to influence and work across the whole landscape, it is important to understand how our farms work and what makes farmers tick!

The morning was held indoors at the Queen Elizabeth Country Park near to Petersfield in Hampshire, hosted by good friend and top notch countryside advisor, Nick Heasman (South Downs National Park Ranger – to give him his correct title!). I always like to hold informal meetings so that people can ask plenty of questions as we go along – nothing worse than a one way lecture! Well, I certainly need not have worried with this lot – loads of questions, which also turned into useful discussions - fantastic! 
In the afternoon we went onto George Atkinson’s farm – an award winning mixed farm with stacks to talk about and lots to see first hand. George is a great ambassador for the farming industry and speaks with passion about the way he farms and the wildlife that he looks after on his farm – no wonder he was a finalist in this year’s RSPB Nature of Farming awards. Read more about George at: http://www.rspb.org.uk/Images/george-atkinson_tcm9-349732.pdf

Volunteers do a fantastic amount of work across the countryside, whether it is turning their hand to a bit of coppicing or scrub clearance to surveying areas for plants or birds. I think it is especially rewarding to those who perhaps live and work in our towns and find themselves hankering for a job out in the fresh air!

I think everyone enjoyed the day and hopefully learnt a lot about the farmland that surrounds them when they are up on the Downs. I certainly enjoyed their company – they were as enthusiastic a bunch as you are ever likely to meet!!

Why not think of volunteering yourself – it is a wonderful way to meet people and to put your energies to something really useful. This is the link to the South Downs volunteer’s page: http://www.southdowns.gov.uk/get-involved/volunteering
 
However, don’t forget there is work to be done wherever you may live in the country!
The South Downs is largely made up of farmland

Saturday, 26 October 2013

Not all is well down on the farm, despite many farmer's best efforts.

The Lapwing continues to decline on our farmland
The latest official figures on farmland birds have recently been released and continue to show further declines. The Farmland Bird Index – which covers 19 species reliant on the farmed countryside – has seen a five year decline of eight per cent.

Looking back over 40 years the long term decline in farmland birds is 50 per cent, however the decline has slowed in recent years.
Turtle Doves are the fastest declining species – down 95 per cent since 1970, and reports from earlier this year suggest it is the worst year ever for sightings. Other species hit hard include Lapwings, which are down 63 per cent since 1970; Corn Buntings, down 90 per cent; and Skylarks, down 59 per cent.

The overall decline has however slowed, probably as a result of many farmers targeting their Stewardship options specifically towards these farmland birds. Just over 70% of English farmers are in a Stewardship scheme of some sort which is great; however those who make best use of the options available have nearly always taken advice from a qualified farm conservation advisor. Advice is the key if conservation schemes are to be correctly integrated in with individual farming business practices, and actually deliver what these birds need.

If we are serious about turning the fortunes of these farmland birds around, Government has to make sure that payments to farmers who are taking land out of crop production to provide habitat for these beleaguered birds, continues into the future and do not get swallowed up in sweeping budget cuts.
Not all species associated with farmland are doing badly though. Ironically, two of the less popular birds with farmers are doing spectacularly well such as Jackdaws, whose numbers have increased by 140 per cent since 1970, and Wood pigeons, which are up 134 per cent.

The Wild Bird Indicator statistics also cover seabirds and woodland birds. The figures for seabirds have shown an increase of 17 per cent since 1970 although they have declined in recent years. The figures for woodland birds have shown a decrease of 17 per cent.   
The Woodpigeon population is up 134% since 1970!

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

And they are off! Follow satellite tracked woodcock on their long journey back to our shores.

Head project scientist Dr. Andrew Hoodless with one of the stars!
In autumn and continuing through December and January, Britain and Ireland see a large influx of migrant woodcock escaping freezing weather in northern Europe. ‘Falls’ of woodcock are often most noticeable around the full moon in November, commonly referred to as the ‘Woodcock Moon’. As many as 700,000 to 1,200,000 migrant woodcock from Scandinavia, Finland, the Baltic States and Russia may spend the winter with us.
 
GWCT scientists have been radio tracking woodcock and have revealed that these birds can fly up to 750 miles over a 30 hour period, averaging almost 25 miles an hour. It has also shown the birds are faithful to their breeding grounds in Eastern Europe and Russia, returning to the same sites each year.
 
One male Woodcock called Monkey, tagged in Cornwall last year, recently completed what is at least his third annual migration, and researchers estimate he has flown more than 24,000 miles (39,000km) in his lifetime. Monkey, has returned to exactly the same breeding ground in Siberia for the last two springs after over-wintering in the UK, the satellite tracking has shown. It will be fascinating to follow his progress and the other radio tracked birds as they make their way back to our shores to spend the winter months here – often to be found feeding in the exactly the same field that they were originally caught in!!

Most of the Woodcock have now started their long journeys - you can follow their individual routes back to the UK by going to: http://www.woodcockwatch.com/index.php


Sunday, 20 October 2013

Filming fabulous fungi!

Fly Agaric - a great love of mine!
 It has been a rather damp and dull weekend – but very mild – the ideal conditions for fungi to thrive I thought to myself! So I set off with my two fellow fungi foragers - Butter (Labrador) and Rosie (Lurcher) to see what I could find in my local woodland. It is an unbelievably productive autumn for nuts and berries and it very soon became apparent that it is also a fabulously fruitful fungi year too!

I was only out for a few hours, but managed to find a wide range of different fungi. What I love about having an interest in natural history is that it is such an enormous subject. Far from finding this daunting, I thoroughly enjoy trying to put a name to all sorts of different species and as a consequence I have a folder on my laptop entitled “In need of ID!!” My knowledge of fungi is poor, but that does not mean that I don’t find it a fascinating subject to dip into – the time spent pootling around my local wood in search of these bizarre and often colourful species, not only shot by ridiculously quickly it seemed, but was also completely and utterly absorbing - a wonderfully relaxing way to spend an afternoon!
 
I have put up a few photos of those that I came across and have managed to identify (correctly I hope!) and one that I'm not so sure about, but should without doubt be called the “Vienetta ice cream” fungi! Needless to say the “In need of ID folder” has swollen in size somewhat with lots of new fungus related images, waiting to be mulled over during a cold, wet Sunday sometime this coming winter.
  
Parasol Mushroom

Shaggy Ink Cap

Yellow Stagshorn

Should be Vienetta Ice Cream fungus -
but is probably Silverleaf fungus?   

My fellow fungus foragers!

Saturday, 19 October 2013

Clinton Devon Estate - the perfect host!

A good mix of people attended the course 
 I ran a course on farmland wildlife last week in a beautiful part of south Devon, on the Clinton Devon Estate, which is not far from Budleigh Salterton. Sometimes when running a course, but certainly not always, everything slots neatly into place, so that I too can actually enjoy the day. This was one of those days!

You would not believe the unforeseen things that can exercise the mind when running these events, even though you think you have covered everything twice over! I could give you many examples, but for the time being how about this one. A number of years ago I organised a “farm walk” to see and discuss how best to manage for wildlife on the farm. It stated all the usual stuff on the invite – bring suitable footwear and wet weather clothing as this was an outside event etc. So, I was quite surprised to see a chap struggling out a car with his whole leg in plaster and being handed crutches, having apparently broken his ankle just the week before!! I quickly changed the well planned route so that he could follow around behind the walking group, in a four wheel-drive vehicle.
 
The event at Clinton Devon however was definitely at the other end of the scale. The inside part of the course was held in the very plush board room and the estate staff could not have been more helpful. The afternoon session was held out on the farm, in a most glorious part of Devonshire countryside and the weather was sunny and warm. What’s more there were lots of excellent habitats to look at and discuss.
 
We also had a great mixture of people attending – Farmers, Keepers, RSPB and National Trust amongst others. I find it very rewarding when you see this mix of folk talking together and in most cases finding out that they actually have much in common – tremendous!
So a big “thank you” to the Clinton Devon estate for hosting this enjoyable day and for helping me to keep any potential gremlins at bay!
  
A wonderful "weedy" stubble - perfect for a wide range of wildlife!

Friday, 18 October 2013

The Cranborne Estate - ahead of the game!

Viscount Cranborne and his estate team receiving the trophy from GWCT's Mike Swan
Congratulations to the Cranborne Estate who has been awarded the GWCT's Wessex Grey Partridge trophy this year. The estate team has put in place a programme of measures which combine together to support grey partridges (and many other farmland bird species) throughout their life cycle. These include improved hedgerow management, grass margins, beetle banks and insect rich brood strips to provide food for chicks.

There is also abundant winter escape cover, large areas of wild bird seed mixes and a generous winter and spring supplementary feeding programme. All of this has been coupled with targeted predation control to maximise the number of pairs that successfully rear their young. This has resulted in an increase from just a few pairs to a total of 34 pairs in 2012. Sadly the dire summer of 2012 saw very few chicks surviving, and resulted in a reduction to 18 pairs in the spring of 2013. Despite this halving of the pair count, there were many more partridges to be seen this autumn than last year, and we can anticipate continued population growth from here on. 


Sunday, 13 October 2013

Don't feed your birds to death.

Greenfinch are particularly susceptible to the disease
Many of us will soon start to think about feeding our garden birds once more, even though the countryside is full of nuts and berries at the moment. I suppose we not only enjoy watching them at close quarters, but also like to make sure that our local birds are well catered for!  There does however seem to be an increasing chance that you might come across some birds looking rather lethargic and in poor condition. This is because they may be suffering from Trichomoniasis – a parasite which typically causes disease at the back of the throat and in the gullet. In adult birds trichomoniasis is usually spread through food or drinking water being contaminated by the droppings from an infected bird.
Greenfinch and Chaffinch seem to be particularly susceptible to the disease, so it is important to try and keep hygiene standards to a high level if we are not to find birds suffering in our own gardens. For more information go to:  http://www.bto.org/sites/default/files/shared_documents/gbw/associated_files/trichomonosis-fact-sheet-garden-wildlife-health.pdf


Sunday, 6 October 2013

A Dewick's Plusia - what on earth is that!

A Dewick's Plusia moth
I caught this little beauty for the first time ever yesterday, with its punk hair-do and splash of white on its side  –  it is called a “Dewick’s Plusia” and is a vagrant to Britain, mainly being caught along the south and east coasts. August is the optimum month for this species, but records have occurred between July and October and it seems to be appearing more and more frequently on our shores.
 
It is named after AJ Dewick who trapped moths in Essex and caught the first one in the UK at Bradwell-on-Sea, Essex, in October 1951. Plusia is a genus of moths of the Noctuidae family. How great to have a moth named after you!
The first one seen in Hampshire (where I live) was caught in 1991, however, nowadays a few are caught each year – but not many - it’s a first for me!


Strange Small Tortoiseshell sorted!

Looks as though he got a chill when he was but a mere youngster!
Since my blog back on the 23rd of September on a strange looking Small Tortoiseshell butterfly, I have been digging around for a little more information on this. I contacted my good friend Dan Hoare of Butterfly Conservation as he is a wealth of knowledge when it comes to butterflies (and most other wildlife!) and he told me the following:

The Small Tortoiseshell appears to be particularly sensitive to temperature shock, so that extreme shocks of either heat or cold during the last 24 hours of the larval stage and the first 48 hours of the pupal stage, can disrupt the natural process of metamorphosis and inhibit the normal processes in which organic chemicals create the colouration of the wing scales.
 
It is difficult to ascertain how frequently any of these aberrations occur in the wild, however it is a rare event that exposes the newly formed pupa or transitional larva to the necessary conditions for metamorphosis to be disrupted in this way, and this is supported by the paucity of historical sightings – especially of the extreme aberrations in the wild. This particular butterfly is known as a “partial aberration” – the really extreme aberration can be an almost entirely melanistic black.
 
It has been speculated that severe late frosts could possibly cause instances of these aberrant forms, as well as a larva/pupa being exposed to particularly strong sunlight after having the normally sheltered pupation site disturbed in some manner.

So thanks Dan – fascinating stuff which I thought I would share!

http://butterfly-conservation.org/

It's not all just Essex estuary talk - no, great results too!!

David Smart standing in a newly sown flower strip
I visited the Essex Wildlife Trust’s 700 acre farm at Abbotts Hall (not too far from Colchester) last week, as they grow crops for Conservation Grade. Trust manager David Smart showed me around and I must say I was impressed by how much is going on conservation wise – whilst the remit is still to definitely farm commercially, they are certainly accomplishing a lot besides!
 
This is great because it means that the Essex Wildlife Trust really understands what trials and tribulations the county’s farmers are facing, which must surely give them real credibility when they come to advise farmers locally. The Wildlife Trusts in general are improving their knowledge and advice about farmland, as maybe in the past they have concentrated on the “special” habitats and nature reserves within their given county, sometimes rather ignoring the wider farmed landscape.  I hope this does not sound condescending – but I do think this was often the case.
 
Abbotts Hall farm not only grows wild bird seed mixes and wild flower areas, but they have also created a large lake area which is now home to lots of birds and a thriving Water Vole colony. They also took some arable land adjacent to the marshes out of food production some dozen years or so ago, letting it go back to a natural coastal habitat – which is precisely what it has done – it is now hard to believe that it once was ploughed!
 
Also along this extensive area of coastline there are a range of habitats such as mudflats, marshes, saline lagoons and the "fringe" area where sea and farmland meet, and it is just here that the plant Hog’ Fennel can be found, which just happens to be the food plant of the extremely rare Fisher’s Estuarine Moth. The trust has been involved in a project to introduce this species back into suitable habitats – and the result is?  The farm now has a small but thriving population of this endangered moth!
 
To me however, one of the most impressive things I saw was the best field of Oil Seed Rape so far this year. Now you are talking – growing lots of food and wildlife on the same farm – that’s what it’s all about! Well done Essex Wildlife Trust!!


Sunday, 29 September 2013

Listen up everyone - farmers ARE doing their bit for wildlife!

Hertfordshire farmer Barbara Sapsed in her "wildlife crop!"

Suffolk farmer, Steve Honeywood - doing so much for wildlife
Last week I was working in the Eastern counties – in Suffolk and Hertfordshire to be precise – doing farm based assessments for ConservationGrade (CG). Farmers who grow crops for CG have to have a minimum of 10% of the farm in wildlife habitats, such as flower rich areas which provide pollen and nectar or wildlife seed mixes which produce lots of different seeds for over-wintering birds to feed on. I check that they are indeed meeting the CG requirements and also give advice, were necessary, on how to improve what they are doing.
 
When I give talks to the general public – in other words not a farmer based audience – I often ask them “what percentage of farmers do you think are in a voluntary Government Stewardship scheme, which funds them to manage and provide habitats for wildlife?” The usual answers I get range from around 10 – 20%. The actual answer is over 70%.  
What is more, on the farms that have decided not to go into one of these Stewardship schemes, (often because they want to do things their own way – without Government rules and regulations) it certainly does not mean that they are devoid of wildlife habitats. There is often plenty to see such as grass buffer strips along water courses, over-wintering stubbles and game cover crops.

OK, Conservation Grade farmers tend to be amongst the very best in the country at growing crops, not only for us to eat, but for a wide range of wildlife too. But we really have to begin to shout more loudly about the vast majority of farmers out there who are playing their part in managing the countryside for much more than just food production.  Sure, there is still more to be done to really turn around the fortunes of certain farmland species with are still declining, but the public perception that very little is happening on farms, is way off the mark.

PS. Steve also has a thriving horse feed business which is accredited by Conservation Grade! Use this link to also see his on the farm page as it will give you some idea just how much he is doing!